If you’re reading this before bedtime Thursday and state lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty have agreed to a budget deal — one that closes a $935 million shortfall — it will be a small miracle.
News and facts were elusive today at the media campout that’s taken hold outside the governor’s office. (We need to name that settlement ASAP. Journo Row? Camp Deadline?)
At 11:40 a.m., Sen. Tarryl Clark, the Senate assistant majority leader, said all parties were “still trying to reach an agreement.” Less than an hour later, Rep. Tony Sertich, the House majority leader, said things were “cordial.”
He also said there would be an update at 2 p.m., which never happened, and by 2:50, Rep. Marty Seifert, the House minority leader, surfaced to say, “What’s going on is nothing.”
According to Seifert, a 2 p.m. meeting didn’t materialize for some reason, and the governor was “signing and vetoing bills right now” instead of cutting a budget deal. Seifert then conceded that lawmakers and Pawlenty were scraping for “pennies under the couch at this point.” But no one seems to be in the same living room, let alone on the same page.
Word has it the DFL, GOP and governor can’t come to an agreement over what is called a “levy limit” by Democrats and a “property tax cap” by the guv. A proposal sent by the DFL leadership to Pawlenty around 11 last night offered a 5.5 percent annual cap, but Pawlenty has said he wants it at 3 percent.
What’s more, there’s some haggling over Local Government Aid, the state program that rains money down on municipalities for general fund essentials like police and fire. DFLers want more LGA money loosed — which is often seen as a form of property tax relief, because cities then don’t have to raise levies to pay for general services — if they are going to concede to Pawlenty’s cap. On the other hand, Pawlenty is not likely to free up more LGA cash, since the program has been something of a bane to him ever since he took office.
No one knows exactly how much LGA money is being bandied about, but Seifert says the whole property tax/LGA package is about $150 million, including other taxes and “offsets.”
But the bigger problem, according to some close to the negotiations and indications from Seifert, is that the respective tax committee chairs can’t come to some sort of property tax agreement. Sen. Thomas Bakk and Rep. Ann Lenczewski are both DFLers, but apparently have differing views on dealing with property taxes. Early in the budget negotiations, someone remarked that the three sides are not necessarily GOP, DFL and the governor, but the House, the Senate and the governor. This appears to be the case, at least for now.
Seifert remarked that the budget was “easier to snap into place” than figuring out the tax aspect — “the cap is a big issue.” But by late Thursday, neither seemed imminent.